The smell of freshly mowed grass, birds chirping, the pop of the mitt, the crack of the bat. Spring is here, and hope springs eternal. Now that baseball is finally back, let's profile some slightly less heralded Baltimore Orioles players.
The 25-year-old Stowers appears slated for regular playing time for the 2023 Orioles in a right field/DH timeshare with Anthony Santander and an occasional start in left field to give Austin Hays a day off. Stowers introduced himself to the American League last August with a two-out, two-strike dead-center home run off of All-Star closer Liam Hendricks -- his first major league homer -- and posted a solid .724 OPS with three home runs over 91 at-bats last season. If the left-handed hitting outfielder can come somewhat close to his minor league numbers (.897 OPS in 2021 and .884 OPS in 2022) he may quietly become a solid run producer in the Orioles' lineup for the next several years.
The Orioles' decision to pass on the big four shortstops in free agency, such as Dansby Swanson, Trea Turner, Carlos Correa, and Xander Boegarts, made some sense, as the team is stocked with middle infield depth in the minor leagues. But for this year, a year the team hopes to compete for the playoffs - Mateo figures to see significant playing time at shortstop.
Mateo was a joy to watch last year (despite a frustrating low on-base percentage). He stole bases, made dazzling plays on defense, and showed occasional power. With Jackson Holliday in the minors, but not exactly beating down the door this year (and with Gunnar Henderson slated to play a lot at third base), Mateo will get his chances. And he should be as fun to watch in 2023 as he was in 2022.
Irvin, whom the Orioles acquired from Oakland in January, appears to already be a lock for the rotation. While not a strikeout pitcher, Irvin works fast, throws strikes, and does not walk a lot of batters. Fans should expect significant fast-moving action whenever Irvin takes the mound. As a bonus, he seems like an awesome guy who will be fun and easy to root for. I mean, his Instagram handle is @Swirvin_Irvin19.
Like many of his fellow Orioles relievers, Brian Baker returns to the 2023 Orioles after posting a solid year out of the dynamic Orioles bullpen. Baker pitched stronger as the 2022 season wore on, posting a 1.35 ERA in September and averaging over one strikeout per inning. His main pitch - the four-seam fastball - averages 96.2 miles per hour, while Bakers' ancillary pitches are just as if not more effective. In 2022, batters hit .044 of of Baker's changeup; in other words, opposing players got a hit off the changeup less than once every 20 at-bats. With Dillon Tate and Felix Bautista slowed by injuries this spring, Baker could see early save chances and should be an enjoyable late-inning reliever to watch all season.
The Orioles take the field for the first time at 1:05 p.m. ET Saturday against the Twins in their Grapefruit League opener. And while everyone will be excitedly following the rookie seasons of Grayson Rodriguez and Gunnar Henderson, the Orioles have several under-the-radar players that will be fun to watch all season long.